LATE that August rain set in, and, one day, Oblomov saw a vanload of the Ilyinskis' furniture come past his windows. To remain in his country villa, now that the park was desolate and the shutters hung closed over the Ilyinskis' windows, seemed to him impossible. At length he removed to the rooms which had been recommended him by Tarantiev, until such time as he should be able to find for himself a new flat. He took hasty meals at restaurants, and spent most of his evenings with Olga.
But the long autumn evenings in town were not like the long, bright days amid fields and woods.
Here he could not visit Olga three times a day, nor send her notes by Zakhar, seeing that she was five versts away. Thus the posied poem of the late summer seemed somehow to have halted, or to be moving more slowly, as though it contained less substance than of yore.
Sometimes they would keep silence for quite half an hour at a time, while she busied herself with her needlework, and he busied himself in a chaos of thoughts which ranged beyond the immediate present. Only at intervals would he gaze at her and tremble with passion; only at intervals would she throw him a fleeting glance, and smile as she caught the rays of tender humility, of silent happiness, which his eyes conveyed.
Yet on the sixth day, when Olga invited him to meet her at a certain shop, and to escort her homeward on foot, he found his position begin to grow a trifle awkward.
"Oh, if you knew how difficult things are!" he said. She returned no answer, but sighed. On another occasion she said to him—"Until we have arranged everything we cannot possibly tell my aunt. Nor must we see so much of one another. You had better come to dinner only on Sundays and Wednesdays. Also, we might meet at the theatre occasionally, if I first give you notice that we are going to be there. Also, as soon as a fine day should occur I mean to go for a walk in the Summer Gardens, and you might come to meet me. The scene will remind us of our park in the country." She added this last with a quiver of emotion.
He kissed her hand in silence, and parted from her until Sunday. She followed him with her eyes—then sat down to immerse herself in a wave of sound at the piano. But something in her was weeping, and the notes seemed to be weeping in sympathy. She tried to sing, but no song would come.
A few days later, Oblomov was lolling on the sofa and playing with one of his slippers—now picking it up from the floor with his toe, now dropping it again. To him entered Zakhar.
"What now?" asked Oblomov indifferently. Zakhar said nothing, but eyed him with a sidelong glance.
"Well?" said Oblomov again.
"Have you yet found for yourself another flat?" Zakhar countered.
"No, not yet. Why should you want to know?"
"Because I suppose the wedding will be taking place soon after Christmas."
"The wedding? What wedding?" Oblomov suddenly leaped up.
"You know what wedding—your own," replied Zakhar with assurance, as though he were speaking of an event long since arranged for. "You are going to be married, are you not?"
"I to be married? To whom?" And Oblomov glared at the valet.
"To Mademoiselle Ilyinski—" Almost before the man could finish his words Oblomov had darted forward.
"Who put that idea into your head?" he cried in a carefully suppressed voice.
"The Lord bless us all and protect us!" Zakhar ejaculated, backing towards the door. "Who told me about it? Why, the Ilyinskis' servants, this very summer."
"Rubbish!" hissed Oblomov as he shook a warning finger at the old man. "Remember—henceforth let me hear not a word about it!" He pointed to the door, and Zakhar left the room—filling the flat with his sighs as he did so.
Somehow Oblomov could not recover his composure, but remained gazing at the spot which Zakhar had just vacated. Then he clasped his hands behind his head, and re-seated himself in the arm-chair.
"So the servants' hall and the kitchen are talking!" was his insistent reflection. " It has come to this, that Zakhar can actually dare to ask me when the wedding is to be! Yes, and that though even Olga's aunt has not an inkling of the truth! What would she think of it if she knew? The wedding, that most poetical moment in the life of a lover, that crown of all his happiness—why, lacqueys and grooms are talking of it even though nothing is yet decided upon! No answer has come from the estate, my registry certificate is a blank, and a new flat still remains to be found."
With that he fell to analysing that poetical phase from which the colour had faded with Zakhar's mention of the same. Oblomov was beginning to see the other face of the medal. He tossed and turned from side to side, lay flat on his back, leaped up and took a stride or two, and ended by sinking back into a reclining position.
"How come folk to know about it?" he reflected. "Olga has kept silence, and I too have breathed not a word. So much for stolen meetings at dawn and sunset, for passionate glances, for the wizardry of song! Ah, those poems of love! Never do they end save in disaster. One should go beneath the wedding canopy before one attempts to swim in an atmosphere of roses. To think that before any preparations have been made—before even an answer has come from the estate, or I have obtained either money or a flat—I should have to go to her aunt, and to say: 'This is my betrothed!' At all costs must I put a stop to these rumours. Marriage! What is marriage?"
He smiled as he remembered his recent poetical idealization of the ceremony—the long train to the gown, the orange-blossoms, the whispers of the crowd. Somehow the colours had now changed; the crowd now comprised also the uncouth, the slovenly Zakhar and the whole staff of the Ilyinskis' servants' hall. Also, he could see a long line of carriages and a sea of strange, coldly inquisitive faces. The scene was replete with glimmering, deadly weariness.
Summoning Zakhar to his presence, he again asked him how he had dared to spread such rumours.
"For do you know what marriage means?" he demanded of his valet. "It means that a lot of idle lacqueys and women and children start chattering in kitchens and shops and the market-place. A given individual ceases to be known as Ilya Ilyitch or Peter Petrovitch, and henceforth ranks only as the zhenich. Yesterday no one would have noticed him, but by to-morrow every one will be staring at him as though he were a notorious rascal. Neither at the theatre nor in the street will folk let him pass without whispering, 'Here comes the zhenich'. And every day other folk will call upon him with their faces reduced to an even greater state of imbecility than distinguishes yours at this moment—all in order that they may vie with one another in saying imbecile things. That is how such an affair begins. And early each morning the zhenich must go to see his betrothed in lemon-coloured gloves—never at any time may he look untidy or weary; and always he must eat and drink what is customary under the circumstances, in order that his sustenance may appear to comprise principally bouquets and air. That is the programme which is supposed to continue fully for three or four months! How could I go through such an ordeal? Meanwhile you, Zakhar, would have had to run backwards and forwards between my place and my betrothed's, as well as to keep making a round of the tailors', the bootmakers', and the cabinetmakers' establishments, owing to the fact that I myself could not have been in every spot at once. And soon the whole town would have come to hear of it. 'Have you yet heard the news? Oblomov is going to be married!' 'Really? To whom? And what is she like? And when is the ceremony to be?' Talk, talk, talk! Besides, how could I have afforded the necessary expenses? You know how much money I possess. Have I yet found another flat? And am I not owing a thousand roubles for this one? And would not the hire of fresh quarters have cost me three thousand roubles more, considering the extra rooms which would have been required? And would there not have been the cost of a carriage, and of a cook, and so forth? How could I possibly have paid for it all?"
Oblomov checked himself abruptly. He felt horrified to think of the threatening, the uncomfortable, vision which his imagination had conjured up. The roses, the orange-blossoms, the glitter and show, the whispers of the crowd—all these had faded into the background. His fond dreams, his peace of mind alike were gone. He could not eat or sleep, and everything had assumed an air of gloom and despondency. In seeking to overawe Zakhar, he had ended by frightening also himself, for he had stumbled upon the practical view of marriage, and come to perceive that, despite nuptial poetry, marriage constitutes an official, a very real step towards a serious assumption of new and insistent obligations. Unable, therefore, to make up his mind as to what he should say to Olga when he next met her, he decided to defer his visit until the following Wednesday. Having arrived at this decision, he felt easier.
Two days later, Zakhar entered the room with a letter from Olga.
"I cannot wait until Wednesday," she wrote. "I feel so lost through these long absences from your side that I shall look to see you in the Summer Gardens at three o'clock to-morrow."
"I cannot go," he thought to himself. The next moment he comforted himself with the reflection that very likely her aunt, or some other lady, would be with her; in which case he would have a chance of concealing his nervousness.
Scarcely had he reached the Gardens when he saw her approaching. She was veiled, and at first he did not recognize her.
"How glad I am that you have come!" she exclaimed. "I was afraid you would not do so."
She pressed his hand, and looked at him with an air so frank, so full of joy at having stolen this moment from Fate, that he felt envious of her, and regretful that he could not share in her lighthearted mood. Her whole face bespoke a childish confidence in the future, in her happiness, and in him. Truly she was very charming!
"But why do you look so gloomy?" suddenly she exclaimed. "Why do you say nothing? I had thought you would be overjoyed to see me, whereas I find you gone to sleep again! Wake up, sir!"
"I am both well and happy," he hastened to say—fearful lest things should attain the point of her guessing what was really in his mind. "But I am disturbed that you should have come alone."
"Rather, it is for me to be disturbed about that," she retorted. "Do you think I ought to have brought my aunt with me?"
"Then, if I had known that, I would have invited her to come," offendedly she said as she withdrew her hand from his. "Until now I had imagined that your greatest happiness in life was to be with me, and with me alone. Let us go for a row in a boat."
With that she set off towards the river, dragging his unwilling form behind her.
"Are you coming to our house to-morrow?" she inquired when they were safely settled in their seats.
"My God!" he reflected. "Already she has divined my thoughts, and knows that I do not want to come!"
"Yes, yes," he answered aloud.
"In the morning, and for the whole day?"
She splashed his face playfully with water.
"How bright and cheerful everything looks!" she remarked as she gazed about her. "Let us come again to-morrow. This time I shall come straight from home."
"Then you have not come straight from home to-day?"
"No, but from a shop, from a jeweller's."
Oblomov looked alarmed.
"Suppose your aunt were to find out?" he suggested.
"Oh, suppose the Neva were to become dried up, and that this boat were to overturn, and that our house were suddenly to fall down, and that—that you were suddenly to lose your love for me?" As she spoke she splashed him again.
"Listen, Olga," he said when they had landed on the bank. "At the risk of vexing and offending you, I ought to tell you something."
"What is it?" Her tone was impatient.
"That we ought not to be indulging in these secret meetings."
"But we are betrothed to one another?"
"Yes, dearest Olga," he replied, pressing her hands, "and therefore we are bound to be all the more careful. I would rather be walking with you along this avenue publicly than by stealth—I would rather see the eyes of passers-by drop respectfully before you than run the risk of incurring a suspicion that you have so far forgotten your modesty and your upbringing as to lose your head and fail in your duty."
"But I have not forgotten my modesty and my upbringing," she exclaimed, withdrawing her hands.
"No, I know that you have not," he agreed. "I was merely thinking of what people might say—of how the world in general might look upon it all. Pray do not misunderstand me. What I desire is that to the world you should seem to be as pure, as irreproachable, as in actual fact you are. To me your conduct seems solely honourable and modest; but would every one believe it to be so?"
"What you say is right," she said after a pause. "Consequently, let us tell my aunt to-morrow, and obtain her consent."
Oblomov turned pale. "Why hurry so?" he asked. "I know that, two weeks ago, I myself was urging haste; but at that time I had not thought of the necessary preparations."
"Then your heart is failing you? That I can see clearly."
"No; I am merely cautious. Even now I see a carriage approaching us. Are you sure that the people in it are not acquaintances of yours? How these things throw one into a fever of perspiration! Let us depart as quickly as possible." And with that he set off, almost at a run.
"Until to-morrow, then," she said.
"No, until the day after to-morrow. That would be better. Or even until Friday or Saturday."
"No, no; you must come to-morrow. Do you hear? What have we not come to! What a mountain of sorrow are you not threatening to bring upon my head!"
She turned to go home.